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First-round surprise

AP Photo
West Virginia's Bruce Irvin had 23 sacks in two seasons with the Mountaineers.

MORGANTOWN -- Last month, just after Bruce Irvin had wowed a group of NFL coaches, scouts and personnel directors during his pro day workout, he was full of confidence about his status in the upcoming draft, saying he couldn't imagine that "there are 32 players who are better than me in this country.''

Thursday night, in the middle of the first round of that draft, the Seattle Seahawks showed they agreed with that assessment.

The Seahawks stunned almost everyone by taking Irvin, the West Virginia pass rusher, with the No. 15 pick despite repeated questions about both his size and background. Seattle traded down from the No. 12 spot in the first round, so they not only got Irvin but fourth- and seventh-round choices from Philadelphia in the deal.

"I'm just happy they gave me an opportunity and overlooked all the negative stuff that was being said about me,'' Irvin said during a late-night conference call.

Seattle's brass was just as happy to get Irvin as he was to be chosen in the first round.

"We were extremely excited. We didn't want to get too cute with this. We obviously saw him as the best pass rusher in this draft," Seattle general manager John Schneider said. "We had this guy rated as one of the top players in the draft."

According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Seattle coach Pete Carroll has had his eye on Irvin for quite a while. As the coach at Southern Cal, Carroll recruited Irvin out of Mt. San Antonio junior college, but his academics kept it from happening.

Seattle will use Irvin as a defensive end in its 4-3 scheme, not as a linebacker in a 3-4 as many teams had seen him. The Seahawks have a spot that seems tailor made for his skill set as strictly a pass rusher.

"The position in our defense is called the 'LEO' position," Carroll said. "This is the spot that he's built to play. Rarely do you find a guy who has this much emphasis toward the pass game, the rush game, and being able to get after the ball."

The selection of Irvin was easily the most stunning development to that point in the draft. The 6-foot-3, 245-pounder was almost universally considered a likely second- or even third-round pick.

Then again, his up side could be unlimited.

"I talked to three general managers [just before the draft] and each one of them said, 'Who do you think is the best pure pass rusher in the draft?' '' said NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock. "I said Bruce Irvin, but you probably can't take him in the first round because of the risk involved. Well, Pete Carroll didn't care about the risk involved.''

The risks with Irvin, of course, are varied. For starters, he is undersized for a defensive end -- the position he played at West Virginia -- and he really has only two years of football experience. But while he is better suited as an outside linebacker from a size standpoint, he's never played that position and has never been asked to drop into coverage.

NFL teams have also debated character issues with Irvin in the run-up to the draft, citing his troubled background from his high school days near Atlanta when he dropped out of school and at one point spent time in juvenile jail and the fact that he never graduated from high school (he got a GED in order to enter junior college).

Apparently, though, Seattle has no concerns about any of those issues.

"This is the kind of guy that puts fear in offensive tackles,'' Carroll said.

At least when he's on the field.

"Here's the deal with Irvin: He's a situational pass rusher only,'' Mayock said. "And that means that on run down he won't even be in the game. But because it's a pass-first league, he'll get more snaps than he would have five years ago.''

If all that Seattle asks of Irvin, though, is to rush the passer in that 4-3 scheme, the Seahawks might well have made a heady move. In his first year at West Virginia, 2010, he was second in the nation with 141/2 sacks despite never having been taught any real mechanics of the position and showing up only in time for August camp.

As a junior, with a bit more knowledge but still playing in a defense geared to stopping the run, his sack total dropped to 81/2, but that was largely due to double and triple teams. He also played in a league, the Big East, that didn't throw the ball as much as many others.

"I love eating quarterbacks,'' Irvin joked during Thursday night's call.

Where Irvin's stock really rose was in the NFL Combine in February. There he was by far the most physically impressive pass rusher, running a 4.5-second 40-yard dash and excelling in agility drills. He was equally as impressive at his pro day in Morgantown in mid-March.

Seattle's decision to take Irvin in the first half of the first round of the draft probably is equal parts due to those workouts and his relative infancy in the game. He didn't play football after his sophomore year in high school and has never been involved in a defensive scheme that emphasized the techniques of rushing the passer, either in junior college or at WVU.

"To be honest, I've never been taught how to pass rush,'' Irvin said last week. "My last two years, I had 23 sacks. I've had like 40 in three years [including junior college]. And I got it all on natural ability.''

Irvin becomes the first West Virginia player drafted in the first round since Pacman Jones in 2005, who was the sixth overall pick by Tennessee. He is only the ninth Mountaineer ever to be drafted in the first round.

Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.

 

 


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